8 Garden Ideas: Take-Away Inspiration from the Infant Welfare Showhouse Gardens

Nothing inspires your green thumb like a gorgeous garden.

The 2011 Lake Forest Infant Welfare Showhouse & Gardens at Thorndale Manor earns merit as much for its landscape design as interiors.

Originally designed by renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen, the grounds at Thorndale Manor reflect the same vision and talents Jensen expressed when creating Humboldt and Garfield Parks in Chicago, and the Lincoln Gardens in Springfield. His desire to create truly American inspired gardens can be seen at Thorndale, where he used indigenous trees and shrubs, native plants and flowers, contrasting sun and shade to create light and shadow across the meadow lawn.

8 local landscape design firms took part in restoring the Thorndale Manor grounds. And while few of us will live in a manor such as this, we can take away some lessons in landscaping.


1. Your landscape should compliment the architecture and scale of your home.
Schmechtig Landscape designed a central island driveway consistent with the grandeur of Howard Van Doren Shaw’s architecture. A classic container stands tall amidst a formal, structured stage of boxwood hedge and yellow daffodils.


2. You can never have too many containers.
An abundance of vibrant spring plants in casual pots are set out on the Pennsylvania stone steps of the south terrace designed by Craig Bergman Landscape Design, adding a painterly affect. On the west terrace, Mariani Landscape used a variety of urns filled with brilliant spring flowers to add texture and foliage against the manor’s brick exterior and stone balustrade.

3. Garden antiques add character and charm.
Pairing an antique iron bench with a simple stump, Craig Bergman creates a private spot to enjoy the pond.


4. Simplicity can be grand.
Mariani Landscape restored the west terrace, introducing stone latticework to the middle lawn panel, which is flanked by two parterre garden spaces. The original Jens Jensen grape arbor exemplifies the appealing aesthetic of strong simple lines paired with the freeform of nature.


5. Inside and out, make sure to create intimate spaces.
Designed by P. Clifford Miller Landscape Artistry, the coach house garden offers a visual and physical respite from the grounds, drawing you in through vine-covered wrought iron gates. The kitchen patio by Schmechtig with its small vegetable garden offers a cozy spot for morning coffee.


6. Create a focal point.
P. Clifford Miller Landscape Artistry fashioned an English-inspired circular axis point of brick and stone in the coach house courtyard. A simple wall planter sets the stage for an intimate seating area in the courtyard.

7. Even transitional spaces deserve attention.
The Beaded Garden transformed a muddy lawn and neglected plantings into the middle garden, creating a graceful transition between the manor and coach house. A variety of native plantings add depth and texture in soft curving bedlines to compliment the stately oak trees.

8. Water features don’t have to be grand to instill charm.
A small pond nestled in daffodils and ferns features a charming koi stone sculpture.

Photos by Therese Heyek

Therese Heyek
has created and maintained school gardens at three schools in Wilmette which serve as outdoor classrooms, with prairie plants and vegetable gardens for curriculum enrichment. She loves to observe the magic that happens when kids interact with nature.
 She is the author of “Open to Behold: Seeing God in Everyday Nature.” Her website is ThereseBachHeyek.com.

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